Sunday, September 11, 2016

Aliens Arrive Today!

Are we ready for what might be tomorrow’s headlines about alien arrival here at Earth? To be prepared, we should understand as much as is possible about alien civilization, technology, motivation, and culture, and it doesn’t seem we are doing much in that direction. With such little preparation, things might go badly:

There wasn’t anywhere you could go that didn’t have the news blaring about the alien ship heading for Earth. It suppressed other topics that we used to think were essential to daily life, and rose to the top of the news on every media. An alien ship had been sighted just inside the moon’s orbit, heading toward Earth orbit. It was black in color, and not very warm, so it was hard to detect it, even worse than asteroids of the same size. In three days it would be in orbit, and then probably land shortly afterwards, and no one at all had figured out what to do. No government had an alien department and the United Nations did not either. No advisors or consultants specialized in what to say to these aliens when they arrived, or what to do otherwise. Military types were all about defense and weaponry and they seemed to be the only ones able to respond rapidly, but no one wanted to assume the aliens were malevolent. Military solutions were temporarily off the table. But that left a vacuum.

Someone had the bright idea of collecting together some leaders to have a meeting about what to do, so while the starship sped toward the Earth, a meeting was convened. Speeches were made, and the group came to a reluctant consensus. They needed a spokesman for Earth. Someone had to represent us. Since all the people at the meeting were representatives of some nation or another, it wasn’t likely they would think of anything else, but at least it was a consensus. News people took polls, and the more sane suggestions involved the same thing. Somebody needed to talk to them. The obvious choice was a mild-mannered fellow from a small country who was currently President of the United Nations General Assembly. There were lots of objections to this choice, but there were more objections to anyone else. By the time the starship had entered a polar orbit, he had accepted the role and was ready for the task.

Some others with a bit more foresight had gathered together all the experts on exotic languages into one hall, and even figured out how to have them communicate to one another and to someone else on a telephone line. They huddled together, and were engaged in non-stop discussion of how to approach an alien language, when the starship opened up a commonly used radio channel and said: “Hi”.

At least it was English. The President of the UN was rapidly connected and began his speech, which began by introducing himself and wishing for peace and welcoming the aliens to Earth. It was a nice speech and everyone down here thought he did a fine job as spokesman for the planet. The starship said, “Thanks”. It was clear that there would be no language problems, and the UN President decided to get friendlier and state that he and we all were pleased that the aliens knew one of our languages. There was a bit of a pause, and the starship said that it had been listening to us for about twenty years already, so it knew plenty of our languages, and chose English because it was most common. At this point, Earth people were all relaxing, as they had all been listening to the conversation, almost every single one of them. Now it sounded like the aliens were good guys.

It was time for the spokesman for Earth to step up to bat. He asked them if it was possible to have a meeting between them and us, after a bit of a monologue about that was how we did things. Of course, mostly everybody on Earth had figured out that any aliens who had been listening to us for twenty years would know this, and the President did too, but he had to say it. The alien ship just said, “Sure. Come on up when you’re ready.”

Apparently the aliens had missed the fact that only a small number of people were trained to travel up to low earth orbit, and the UN President was not one of them. They must be able to notice the International Space Station, however, and note it was pretty small and not many transport rockets were heading up to it. The pause after the alien response must have been noticed quickly, because the alien voice added, ‘I don’t have a lander.”

Humans started wondering what kind of low-class alien starship didn’t come with a lander. It seemed like not having a dinghy on a yacht. The UN President hadn’t even considered this possibility, and none of his advisors had either, so he simply temporized and said he would get back to the aliens about that. The alien talking to them was obviously pretty astute, as he figured out the problem right away, and tried to make it easier on us by saying that somebody already up here could fill in if they wanted.

There were four guys on the ISS at the time, and they were pilots and scientists, not a diplomat among them. This was obviously not a great solution, but what else was there? Some NASA people called the President to explain that they didn’t have any way to get over to the alien ship, which was about ten kilometers higher in orbit and in polar orbit as well, meaning a velocity change of thousands of kilometers an hour would be required. What was left? Invite the alien spokesman over to the ISS? Not a great place to visit.

The idea of meeting the aliens died that quickly. It was replaced by the idea of having conversations with the aliens, which is what they would have had anyway if the alien ship had landed on Earth and met with the UN President and his team. So the President’s team quickly, in a matter of twenty minutes, figured out some questions to ask. The President got back on the radio, and the alien voice was still there. It was probably obvious that there wasn’t going to be any meeting, no matter how historic it would have been. Maybe if they had three months to get someone trained both in traveling up to orbit and in diplomacy, it would work. So the first question, probably a bad choice, was about how long the aliens were going to stay here. They said they would be in orbit about ten days. It was so incredibly reassuring to the President’s team, and all the rest of humanity listening in, that the aliens didn’t seem to mind answering questions, and they were pretty clear with their answers. Perhaps human politicians could learn something from them.

Before the human team could ask the really important first question, the alien voice asked for some cheese. Cheddar would be the best, it said, but gouda or swiss would be great as substitutes. This was not what anyone was expecting. There was no video connection to the starship, but if there was, a totally vacant look would be what they saw. The President said that they would work on it, and the alien voice said: “Thanks, gotta go now” and turned off the transmitter.

As luck would have it, there was a rocket ready to go, and the world just kind of decided to replace the satellite payload with thirty kilos of cheddar cheese and send it up to the alien ship. There were several hundred reasons generated why the alien ship would want it, and even more learned discourses on cheddar cheese and its interstellar appeal were posted that anyone would have believed possible. The aliens didn’t open up their channel again, and the UN team of advisors came to the conclusion that the ship was simply waiting for the cheese, which was figured out to be a sign of good intentions, or something like that. Everyone did realize that a spaceship wouldn’t travel for tens of light years or more just for some cheese, no matter how good it was, so humanity was, as a whole, perplexed. They did launch the cheese rocket in two days, however, even without any further communications with the alien ship. It matched orbit as planned, and the ship maneuvered to the cheese satellite, and opened a hatch and dragged it in with some sort of long claw.

Four days later, the starship seemed to be breaking apart. Pieces the size of rocks were coming from it in the direction of Earth and entering the atmosphere. Radio communications were incessantly tried, and finally the alien channel turned on. “Hi” it said. Instead of the important questions that were on the President’s list, he had been advised to ask if the ship was all right. The alien did answer right away, saying “Sure.” Then the President asked if it would be permissible to ask some questions, and the alien ship did say, “Sure, but I only have ten minutes.” So the President started by asking the where the starship had come from, and the alien responded by explaining that he had been mining some asteroids for a while, and before that had come from a solar system in the direction of Centaurus. Why the alien ship had come to Earth was the next question, and that was answered in the alien’s first compliment. “Because Earth is such an excellent planet.” The next question was rather self-serving, but given the limit of ten minutes, the President asked if the aliens could share their technology with humans. Maybe he thought the cheese would be worth it, or maybe he just was expressing the hope of mankind that aliens would give them a free technology short-cut. The answer was apologetic, “Sorry, but I didn’t bring any of that stuff. I’m not going to build anything out here.” Larger pieces fell from the ship and finally the remaining part nose-dived into the atmosphere. It was just about ten minutes.

Humanity never did get to figure out exactly what solar system the alien was referring to, or what it had been mining, or why Earth was excellent, but they did guess that the cheese was for growing microbes, just before the toxins got rid of them.

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